We’re at the Colorado Cattle Company, one of the many great ranches in Colorado, to participate in Cutting Horse Dream Week. This is an intensive week of training with cutting horse champion, judge and trainer Teddy Johnson, as well as Tina and Eddie Johnson, top notch trainers who have worked with Teddy and now work at the ranch.
This Dream Week is unique because participants come from diverse backgrounds. No one in our small group is a pro-rider. We are avid Western pleasure riders, English riders from England, cutting horse novices and me, an East Coast English rider. This means that I sometimes need to post that trot, especially after a long day on the trails. We riders are going to have the unique chance to ride a championship cutting horse.
Colorado Cattle Company is a working cattle ranch, meaning that if you visit, you come here to help out on the ranch. You may be on a cattle drive, fixing something or branding a calf. The work varies. If you come for a dream week, which is what we did, you come to fulfill a dream, whether it is being a cowboy, riding a championship cutting horse or riding a bull.
Because we were still in Wyoming when the week started, I missed the first few days of intensive cutting horse training. I was probably the weakest link in the group, too, so I probably could have used the initial training. That’s OK. Upon arriving, I jumped into the lessons. When else would I get the chance to ride a championship cutting horse?
Cutting horses are bred and trained to cut or separate individual animals from a herd. They are agile and quick and you have to be pretty balanced in the saddle to ride one of these horses.
Eddie and Tina Johnson were with us on my first day to get us ready for Teddy Johnson’s arrival. We started out working a buffalo in the ring. Those buffalo are fast. I was told that I was given a horse who was greener than the others. Everyone else was already on high performance horses. Since I showed up late, I would work with a horse who actually needed some more cutting training.
Great, I thought. I don’t even know what I am doing, and I am going to have to tell this horse what to do. The horse was so new that they hadn’t even named him yet. I warmed up in the adjoining paddock, while some of the other riders worked with the buffalo.
Tony, a cop from the town over, is in the clinic with his wife. They are both on high earning, award-winning horses. Tony rocks on his horse, Leana with Style, an 8-year-old mare, who has won a lot of money. Leana is owned by Lowell Den Besten, who has brought a couple of the winning horses for us to ride. Leana is a powerful horse, who bounds after the buffalo with speed and accuracy. Tony looks elated as he comes back from working the buffalo.
Angela, a British woman who usually rides English, but travels extensively to ride on vacations, is on a champion as well. She is getting used to riding Western, like me. Angela does well as her horse turns sharply and backs up to stop the buffalo from getting by. Everyone is grinning as they come out of the ring.
I enter the ring, not expecting to be able to do much. “He’s a little green, so you’re going to have to help him along,” Eddie says.
Eddie shows me how to steer. I am used to sitting up pretty straight and Eddie tells me to sit on my pockets and slouch a little. I should hold on by pushing back against the saddle and keep my toes up. Ah, keep my toes up, like in English riding. This, thankfully, I can do. You want to keep toes up, and thus your heels down, on a cutting horse, so that you don’t fly forward. This is key.
I was starting to catch on to some of the basics while working with the buffalo. I had to keep telling myself to hold my arm more forward and steer a bit, stopping when the buffalo stopped and backing up a little before turning. When the horse was in his zone, I simply put down my left hand, which was holding the reins, and let the horse do his thing.
From the buffalo, we head to the indoor arena, to work on chasing a mechanical flag. Cutting horses are bred to cut cattle from the herd. They are like the border collie of the horse world.
My green horse and I did much better in the controlled environment of the indoor arena with the mechanical flag. I am attempting to soak in as much information on the proper technique for riding these horses as possible, because tomorrow, I will be riding in front of Teddy Johnson and working with a real cow. It should be interesting and certainly a challenge. Check back to see if I can hack it on a championship cutting horse and in the meantime, please check out more photos from the Colorado Cattle Company.
Learn more about Equitrekking on PBS and the Colorado episode and learn about exceptional equestrian vacations, including ranch vacations, at EquitrekkingTravel.com.